Articles / Growing Up, The Word "Greens" Didn't Even Exist

Growing Up, The Word "Greens" Didn't Even Exist

Published July 30, 2019

Coming out of winter, I have a nice variety of dried beans. Coming into summer, I have more greens than I can handle. Between the CSA and my own garden, the kale-collards-arugula-chard-spinach-etc complex can be overwhelming. I do put greens in almost everything I can think of, including the occasional morning shake. But by far my favorite use is beans and greens.

I did not grow up eating beans and greens. In fact I doubt I ate beans in any form other than Heinz Baked and the like or Three Bean Salad (a picnic staple back in the day) until I was twenty — my friend Lawrence made a memorable white bean pie, essentially a kind of sweet potato pie, right around then; that was a bit of a turning point — and the word “greens” didn’t even exist: You ate iceberg lettuce or spinach and it wasn’t until the seventies I even heard of kale or chard. For those who don’t believe me — well, such was the life of most New Yorkers of Eastern European Jewish ancestry in the fifties and sixties. (Of course there were exceptions.)

For me the dish of beans and greens dates to my New Haven years, when the various Italian restaurants did several versions, some called — surprisingly — beans and greens, but others often labeled pane cotto (which means “cooked bread,” eternally confused with panna cotta, or “cooked cream”), which is beans and greens, with bread. Pasta e fagiole is essentially a variation.

There are many others and they’re all fine. Garlic is essential. Pine nuts, raisins, capers, anchovies, chiles, bread, pasta, rice, sausage, prosciutto… they’re all possible. It’s a forgiving combination.

The thing about basic, simple, elemental beans and greens is that you can incorporate a lot of greens: You can use your whole week’s allotment in one batch — especially if you use a pressure cooker (or, yes, an Instant Pot). The variations are endless (see How to Cook Everything) and yes, you can do this without a pressure cooker, but it’ll take a lot longer.

With all due respect to my good friend Rick Easton, I no longer soak beans; I almost never think that far ahead unless forced to, and I really don’t think it matters much.

This is what I did last week — pretty much the most basic recipe possible — and I was pretty damned happy about it.


I’ve been eating and cooking beans and greens (in various combinations) for a long time. The dish is about as elemental as it gets, and is a welcome (often necessary) way to use up your greens when you have more than you can handle. I use the pressure cooker here because it’s lightning fast; of course, this dish is equally good cooked in a normal pot, it’ll just take much longer.